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USC Sports

USC’s Josh Imatorbhebhe has a chance to make a name for himself at receiver

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USC redshirt sophomore receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe is looking to break into the wide receiver rotation in 2018.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

Josh Imatorbhebhe knows there’s an opportunity.

Last season, the USC receiver saw limited playing time in a position group that boasted several playmakers.

But the depth chart has thinned since Deontay Burnett declared for the NFL draft and Steven Mitchell Jr. exhausted his eligibility, leaving room for Imatorbhebhe, a third-year sophomore, to claim a larger role.

“My M.O. now is really just to improve every single day,” Imatorbhebhe said after Tuesday’s practice. “I feel like I’ve been improving this whole offseason.”

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Imatorbhebhe, whose brother Daniel is a tight end for the Trojans, has caught two passes for 11 yards since arriving from North Gwinnett High in Suwanee, Ga. in 2016.

But his progress was apparent last Friday during a modified scrimmage in full pads.

“His natural ability and explosiveness is off the charts,” coach Clay Helton said. “He’s a special talent that is really coming into his own.”

Imatorbhebhe demonstrated a knack for gaining yards after the catch when he took a short pass and turned it into a long gain. He also showed he could stretch the field when he hauled in a deep throw along the sideline.

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“I just focused on what I had to do,” Imatorbhebhe said. “And those were the results.”

Despite key departures, USC’s receiving corps remains stocked with talent with the return of third-year sophomore Tyler Vaughns, who caught 57 passes for 809 yards and five touchdowns last season, and junior Michael Pittman Jr., who caught 23 passes for 404 yards and two touchdowns.

Imatorbhebhe said his focus this spring was improvement, rather than earning a starting spot.

“The best thing that I can do for myself is not try so hard for that, cause that’s in the future,” Imatorbhebhe said. “But every single day, try to get better.”

No little things

Bryan Ellis saw several things he liked from Matt Fink and Jack Sears during the modified scrimmage.

The first-year quarterbacks coach also watched some mistakes that must be fixed.

Ball security, which Helton said was a point of emphasis this spring, was an issue when each quarterback dropped a snap from redshirt freshman center Brett Neilon.

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Ellis said the errors signaled that quarterbacks were saturated with information.

“It’s going up and being a young guy, having so many things going through your head,” Ellis said. “And you forget to do the simplest thing.”

Fink watched film of the modified scrimmage, the Trojans’ first this spring in full pads, and was pleased that he was able to pick up on blitzes and read the defense, but said he needed to improve chemistry with receivers.

“I probably have some timing issues,” said Fink, who is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience. “And some plays where I didn’t feel necessarily confident where I should have.”

Sears was content with his accuracy, but said he needed to trust himself to make more throws.

“There were a couple of balls that we completed, but if I had let it go earlier it probably would have been a bigger gain or a touchdown,” Sears said.

Etc.

Pittman did not practice because of a shoulder injury… Tight end Tyler Petite was slowed because of a lower back injury and receiver Randal Grimes was slowed because of a groin injury… USC president Max Nikias attended practice.

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lindsey.thiry@latimes.com

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Facebook and Twitter @LindseyThiry


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